When Trixie, a terrier mix, first met Fred “Akita” Papenhausen at the Petro Stopping Center in North Little Rock September 10, she happily walked with him on her leash, enjoying his gentle back scratch and wagging her tail as they walked toward his truck.
It was a far cry from just a few hours earlier. In the morning, Trixie was given a high-powered flea killer to eradicate thousands of fleas she suffered with and left her owner, an elderly woman who who couldn’t afford her care. Papenhausen, a trucker for almost 20 years, volunteered to transport the dog to his mother’s three-state rescue, Journey Home Rescue, in Idaho like he’s done for more than a handful of other dogs since late last year. While he enjoys the companionship of having a pup on the road with him, he is quick to explain he doesn’t do it for any sort of recognition.
“It gives them a second chance at life because a lot of them are either abandoned or abused,” Papenhausen said. “… It’s so small in comparison to what my mom does; it’s like a drop in the bucket. They’re the ones that take the time, go out of their way, to make sure these animals have a safe place and get the care they need.”
Plus, he loves dogs — hence his nickname “Akita.”
“The part I really hold my head high on is Akita’s are very loyal to their friends and family and I am with my friends and family. [A friend] noticed that quality in me and the name stuck,” he said, proudly adding he also has an Akita tattoo on his arm. “If I ever get the chance I will legally change my name.”
Papenhausen, 47, drives for Aguero Trucking out of Burley, Idaho, hauling freight “wherever they send me,” minus California, in his 2017 Kenworth W900.
“Growing up I had uncles and stuff in the trucking industry. I was just always fascinated with the big trucks,” he said.
Papenhausen said it’s been a good career for him, despite the ups and downs in the industry.
“Whether people want to realize it or not, we are really basically the lifeblood of this country. Without us nothing moves,” he said.
However, Papenhausen said some areas need improvement, including allowing companies to choose if they want to use electronic logging devices rather than mandating it and requiring trainers to be on the road a minimum of three years before training other drivers.
“I understand the population is growing and times change and sometimes you have to change things but like with the E-logs it’s too micromanaged,” he said. “It’s not for safety … Let’s call it what it is — it’s so we don’t lie on our logs. I think it should be left up to your company.”
He’s out on the road three to five weeks at a time, but his non-negotiable holidays off are Christmas and the Fourth of July.
“It’s to enjoy our freedoms that we have that they don’t have in a lot of other countries and be thankful to those who gave me my freedom by sacrificing their lives and who are still sacrificing their lives so I can do what I do,” Papenhausen said. “And I’m like a big kid anyway and I love fireworks. I’ll go home and shoot off fireworks for my grandkids.”
While the trucking lifestyle can be lonely, Papenhausen learned early on that the companionship of man’s best friend can improve someone’s entire outlook. Scooter, a full-blooded Akita that he adopted as a puppy, was Papenhausen’s first driving buddy and rode with him for years. He had to be put to sleep at 16 years old.
“We were close; he went everywhere with me,” he said. “… He would always feel when I was mad, sad or happy. He was really unique.”
To this day, Papenhausen has Scooter’s collar hanging on his wall at his home, along with a plaque that includes his paw print and part of his ashes, he explained, pausing through tears.
“I miss him a lot,” he said.
While he has two dogs at home, the only dogs that travel with him are those that need transport to his mother’s rescue or to another rescue.
And so far, these rescued canines have been memorable. There was the roughly 75-pound Boxer who was at first intimidating, but proved to be a big baby who “snuggled right up next to me” in the sleeper. Then there was the Catahoula with ice blue eyes and lots of hair to shed — “I’m still getting hair out of the truck from her, but that’s fine,” he laughed. She was going to relatives in Idaho while her military family was deployed in the Middle East. And who could forget Norm, a Yorkie mix who was Papenhausen’s first transport, one he almost kept and gave him a run for his money. As the two sat waiting at a shipping yard, “he for whatever reason took a flying leap out of the window.”
“He scared the hell out of me. He just wanted to run. I chased him across this place,” Papenhausen said. “I could barely breathe. He finally ran up on a dock and wound up going up to this one guy. I put him on his leash and walked him, let him burn some of that energy off. That one freaked me out,” he said, explaining he thought the dog was injured, but he was unharmed.
“He definitely made sure I got my exercise,” Papenhausen laughed.
When Papenhausen’s at home in Heyburn, Idaho, he spends quality time with his three children, five grandchildren and, most importantly, his wife of 10 years, Karma.
“I have to give my wife a lot of credit. If it wasn’t for her support I probably wouldn’t have the positiveness I do because she’s there for me and I know it’s hard on her,” he said. “… God bless my wife’s heart. I’ll tell her ‘I love you’ and her saying is, ‘I love you more.’ We’re soul mates.”
But his other love is the open road, where he’ll finish out his career — likely with a dog riding shotgun.
“I figure I have at least 15 years in me. On one hand I’ll probably do it ’til the day I die,” he said. “In some way, shape or fashion I’ll probably always drive a truck.”